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Tigers finish their regular season 14-10 overall, with a core of 11 seniors leaving the program

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Newberg was ousted from the first round of the state 6A playoffs with a 3-1 loss to St. Mary's Academy on Wednesday.

It's the first time since 2013 that the Newberg volleyball team encountered St. Mary's Academy in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs, and once again it was the Tigers singing the blues at the end of the match.

Newberg was ousted from the first round of the playoffs after a competitive contest saw St. Mary's Academy take the win 3-1 (26-24, 23-25, 25-20, 25-13) on Wednesday. Newberg was seeded 14 and the Blues at ninth in the bracket. The Tigers finish their season 14-10 overall, as well as second overall in the Pacific Conference with a 9-3 league record.

"I think we came into tonight knowing that St. Mary's was a really good team and knowing that we are also a good team," Newberg coach Thomas Salness said. "We knew we were going to have to battle and compete and that was kind of what we talked about going in. It was going to be a battle and each match was going to be a battle and it was who is going to win the war?PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The NHS players celebrate a win in the second set of the match at home.

The team, still missing senior outside hitter and University of Oregon commit Sophie Gregoire-Salagean, was outsized against St. Mary's up front but not without its own firepower. The hitting of sophomore outside hitter Esther Muthiah, senior middle Kara Richman and senior Audrey Duckworth kept the team's offense alive over the course of four sets. Defensively the Tigers managed to adjust to some of the Blues' tip kills behind the block, but St. Mary's serving often disrupted the Tiger's offensive system.

Salness likened the game to a chess match.

"Normally we single block, which allows both of our wings to pull off and cover the tips," Salness said. "So, when you double block and pull another player over in the middle, you have to make an adjustment. The adjustment is if we double block, you have to have someone cover that tip right behind. That was something that we talked about and all agreed on, we tried to make that adjustment and it worked well for a while. It's a chess game. We make that adjustment, St. Mary's makes their adjustment, we have to adapt to that."PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - NHS coach Thomas Salness instructs his players during a timeout Wednesday.

The adjustments showed up with Newberg's hitters, the defense, but also the passing from senior setter Kensi Erion and senior libero Olivia Budd. The adjustments are a result of the experiences shared by the large senior class, some of whom have been playing together since the fifth grade. The group of seniors has been through the three regular seasons and a COVID-19 plagued 2020 season that played out in the spring of 2021.

Salness acknowledged that there was no single moment during the 2022 season that stood out but seeing the team act upon its shared on-court experience was the biggest takeaway. His hope for the next few seasons is to see more core players come through.PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Newberg's defense proved up to the task for much of the match.

"We'll have, as of right now, seven juniors on JV, so we'll see what happens next year," he said. "It's core groups, you see those groups bond and move up the ranks together. We're returning those two sophomores next year that were key aspects, key pieces in our program. That's the culture that we're trying to create. We're trying to be a family that's united, and everyone trusts each other."

This is the first time since 2013 that Newberg and St. Mary's Academy faced off in the postseason. In 2013, St. Mary's Academy was the 27-seed when they upset 6-seed Newberg 3-2.

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